BREATH OF THE KAROO FOR CANNES
Olive Schreiner’s Story of An African Farm, filmed in Laingsburg last year, will make its debut at the International Film Festival in Cannes from May 12 to 22. The film, produced by Bonnie Rodini, and starring Richard E Grant and Armin Mueller Stahl, will premier in South Africa in August and September. Bonnie Rodini read this story while at school and became quite passionate about it being filmed. She knew that one day she would film it. However, the road from idea to reality was a rocky one. Bonnie spent over a decade writing the screenplay. She began in 1990 while working in New York. She considers herself fortunate to have received a great deal of advice and encouragement from writer director James Dearden. He wrote the screenplay for Fatal Attraction and scripts for A Kiss Before Dying and Pascali’s Island. Of course, the venue had to be perfect so Bonnie began scouring the Karoo for the ideal place eight years ago. Then, it took five years to raise 40% of the budget for the film and having accomplished that she couldn’t close the deal. Bonnie attributes this to the fact that she was too young and inexperienced. But she persevered because she considered Story of an African Farm a South African classic that just had to be brought to the big screen. In the end it all came together exactly as she had hoped. She found the right director, South African, David Lister. She also found the right stars. “The children we cast were brilliant. They hit their mark every time. They never fluffed a line.” Getting the film “into the can” was just the first part of Bonnie’s dream come true. The next is the launch at Cannes and a successful run in South Africa. “It’s taken time, but its been worth it.”
RIVERINE RABBIT JOINS THE FORUM
News of the latest developments in the riverine rabbit preservation programme will form part of the Arid Zone Ecology Forum (AZEF) programme. Dr Vicky Ahlmann, who is responsible for co-ordinating the research programme on this highly endangered species, will deliver a talk at AZEF. Exciting field trips are also planned for those interested in learning more. Experts Kai Collins, Ken Coetzee and Sue Milton will act as guides. The AZEF meetings will be held at Victoria West’s Apollo Theatre’s new conference facilities from August 30 to September 2. AZEF chairman Mark Anderson has also drawn attention to two meetings, which precede the forum. On August 25 and 26 a Springbok Workshop will update farmers on recent scientific discoveries in game ranching. And, on August 27 to 29 there will be a colloquium, under the auspices of the Royal Society of South Africa and the Biodiversity Transect Analysis in Africa, on adaptations in desert fauna and flora.
ROUND-UP LEAPS INTO THE MODERN WORLD
Rose’s Round-up has a website that will be launched in May. Karoo-lovers searching for information will soon be able to visit this by clicking on www.rosesroundup.co.za Over the years Internet browsers have discovered Rose’s Round-up on one of the sites that have hosted it and have contacted Rose Willis for information, stories, help with research or assistance with genealogical data. The demand has resulted in the development of a website for Round-up.
OUMA’S PRECIOUS GIFT
A story of a grandmother’s love and a young boy’s passion touched the hearts of all who heard it at a Books Building Bridges Seminar in Bloemfontein. This full-day workshop, which concentrated on the role of the written word in reconciliation and nation-building, was organised by the Free State Provincial Library and Information Service to celebrate World Book Day. “I got this book when I was ten,” said author Chris van Wyk indicating a well-worn copy of One Hundred Great Lives. “It was a treasured present from my maternal grandmother, Ouma Ruby. I loved it. I hoped that one day I would grow up to write such stories.” Chris did grow up to be a writer. Today his ten-book series, The Freedom Fighters, is hailed as having made the greatest impression on under-14-year olds in the decade of democracy. “Ouma Ruby, a freedom fighter in her own way, used to meet me at a second-hand bookshop, allow me to choose two books, and pay for them from her meagre pension. I treasured the books and every moment I spent with her.” Then one year as his grandmother’s birthday approached Chris realised, he had nothing to give her. “We were not well to do, and I had no pocket money. So, I decided to make Ouma a card. On it I wrote how much I loved her.” The birthday arrived. The family were handing gifts to the old lady as Chris pushed to the fore. He proudly presented his special card to his beloved gran. “Read it, read it,” he implored. She smiled gently. “Not now,” she said, “I haven’t got my glasses.” “Where are they I’ll fetch them,” he said anxious for the card to be read so that the rest of the family could admire his efforts. “Don’t nag,” said his mother gently drawing him away and softly whispering in his ear. Then for the first time Chris realised that his grandmother, the woman who had given him the most precious gift – a love of the written word – could not read.
RENEWED INTEREST IN ENDANGERED RABBIT
Round-up has recently received several calls for information on the riverine rabbit. These came from researchers and school children in South Africa and abroad. Among the enquiries was one from Denise George a student at the University of Maryland, in the United States. She is writing a research paper on South Africa’s highly endangered riverine rabbit.
TO DREAM THE IMPERIAL DREAM
Oxford University had grown accustomed to unusual characters by the time Cecil John Rhodes arrived there. Yet, many felt it was not quite ready for an undergraduate who at every chance spoke of South Africa and its bright future. To emphasise his point Rhodes would “reach into his pocket and produce a handful of diamonds,” says Mark Strage in Cape to Cairo. Rhodes was an avid reader and “out of his hodge-podge of reading crystallised the view that the English were instruments of some supernatural purpose. In his opinion it was morally right and intellectually sensible that they should rule the world.” Many years after graduating from Oxford, Rhodes and a friend had set up an overnight camp in the veld of the Karoo. In the middle of the night Rhodes shook his companion awake. “What’s the matter? Is there a fire?” asked the bewildered man. “No, no,” said Rhodes “I just wanted to ask whether you ever thought how lucky you are to have been born an Englishman, when there are so many who are not?”
THE SEARCH GOES ON
Ingrid Paterson of Inverness, Scotland, is greatly indebted to Round-up for putting her in touch with the South African branch of her family. Many made contact and stayed in touch. Since contacting her some have died, and she has silently mourned the passing of new friends she never met. And, some “relations” met through Round-up have even gone to visit Ingrid while in Scotland. Now she’s at it again. “I thank Round-up sincerely, but now need more help. I am still desperately trying to find the date of birth of my great-great grandfather, James Daniel Symington, who was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, in about 1794. I would also like the descendants of Johanna Symington and John Humphries (married in Worcester in 1840) as well as the descendants of Anna Petronella Christina Symington and Henry Cruse (married in Worcester in 1848) to contact me. This will help me prove the link between our branch of the South African Symingtons to the family in Lesmahogow in Scotland. Would anyone who can help please contact Round-up.
MORE THAN A JUST COWBOY!
Cowboys in the Karoo – that’s the stuff of legends. However just after the Anglo-Boer War it seems Texas Jack’s Wild West Show gave Pagel’s Circus a run for its money. After reading of Texas Jack in Round-up Vol 2 No 6 a Graaff Reinet reader told of a time when Karoo men challenged this cowboy to ride a zebra. According to an article written by Prof Guy Butler Texas Jack used to boast that he or one of his riders could stick to the back of any bronco from any place in the world. Their boast went one step further: they’d lasso any piece of wild horseflesh from anywhere and ride it. “The men from the Quaggashoek mountain area near Cradock invited Texas Jack to come and see some horse flesh which they bet he would never ride. They took him into the mountains and showed him mountain zebras. Texas Jack accepted their bet – a £100 (big money in those days) – and won. Texas Jack and his men set up a huge public picnic. Ringside seats were provided. Deckchairs were set out on the hillside. Binoculars, coffee, rusks, biltong and glasses of alcohol were supplied. A great crowd gathered. Excitement filled the air. The cowboys, true entertainers, rode into the valley. They waved. The crow cheered. Texas Jack’s plan was bold and simple. It was based on the Red Indian method of hunting buffalo: exhaust the zebras before trying to lasso and mount them. It worked. He and his cowboys drove the animals up and down the valley. Finally, when they were tired Texas Jack roped one and mounted it. The zebra was too tired to buck. The crowd straggled off, greatly disappointed. This was not the show they’d expected. Yet, the farmers paid up. A copy of Prof Butler’s article was sent to Pam Avis in London. This led to another surprise. Turns out Guy Butler was her cousin and the article reminded her of another story….
During the 1930’s a very smart new bookshop opened in Cradock. “It was owned by Ernest Butler, my cousin Guy’s father’ writes Pam Avis. “I had a job in Cradock at the time. Early one evening a female cousin and I ran out into the street to see what was happening after we heard a great commotion. The bookshop was ablaze. Everyone was dashing hither and thither.” In those days Cradock had a rather antiquated, rattletrap fire engine with a manual pump. The head fireman, a volunteer, was local chemist Ivor Tapp. Of course, he was also in charge of the keys to the fire engine. Unfortunately, on that day he could not be found for quite sometime. So the blaze took hold. “Other fire brigade members began tumbling out of their homes, banks, shops and offices, and one by one dashing down to the garage where the engine was kept. They fired it up. Quite some encouragement was needed because the old machine was seldom needed. Finally, they got it going. It snorted, rattled out into the street and trundled noisily up to the square. The firemen all ran alongside and by the time they got to the bookshop they were hot and perspiring. Nevertheless, a rousing cheer went up. Then it was discovered that no one knew where the fire water hydrant was. By then Uncle Charlie Butler, the town mayor, had arrived. He was a portly and bossy gentleman and he too was puffed and red-faced. Authoritatively he strode forward, pointed out the position of the hydrant and within short the fire hose was connected. Sadly, by now the shop and all its books was almost gutted,” says Pam. But that was not the end. More was to come. “With the hose connected the firemen pointed it at the bookshop and pumped mightily, cheered on by spectators. Instead of water gushing out and into the bookshop, the hose showered a “rain storm” out over the crowd. It appeared that mice had nibbled holes all along the canvas hosepipe! By now my cousin and I were absolutely convulsed with mirth. Little could be done to save the bookshop. It burned to the ground. In due course, Butler’s Books was rebuilt and reopened, but Cradock folk never forgot the fateful night when its predecessor went up in flames.
A DECADE OF KAROO PLANTS
Karoo, David Shearing’s book on indigenous plants celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The book, launched in Beaufort West on September 6, l994, remains a popular reference work on Karoo plants. To celebrate this anniversary David is considering organising a “bossie day” in the Karoo National Park, which also celebrates its 25th anniversary in September. Previous outings to study Karoo flora under David’s guidance have been fully booked
PEACOCKS AT DAWN
The beautiful gardens on Rooispruit (later Red Lands) farm, the home of Owen Collett, was the envy of his neighbours. The homestead nestled in a picturesque setting of flowerbeds, mowed lawns and clipped hedged. “It was so very beautiful that my Aunt Kate fancied seeing peacocks strutting on the lawns,” says Pam Avis. “Some were acquired. All went well for a while, then the birds decided to explore and took off to the koppies. This suited them better and allowed them to raid the vegetable garden and orchards to their hearts content. They bred mightily and at dawn their screeching was unbearable.” Kate regretted ever seeing them. She appealed to her son-in-law Mike Meyer for help. He offered to catch the birds and sell them, but this was easier said than done. However, Mike was a resourceful fellow. He got some grain, a bottle of brandy and some good strong sacks. “He soaked the grain in brandy, and at night strategically placed the ‘doctored’ grain beneath their perches. At dawn the birds lost no time in gobbling up the inebriating grain and soon fell down. Mike and his helpers quickly bagged them, plucked their tail feathers and sold both birds and feathers at a good price. He was proud to have solved the problem. A few days later peacock shrieks again rang out at dawn. Seems he didn’t get them all. Since peacock shrieks are said still to fill the morning air it seems he never could catch the lot.
DRESS CODE FOR THE KAROO
An empire of solitude and silence. This is how Julian Ralph describes the Karoo in Towards Pretoria, his book on the Anglo-Boer War. He calls the interior plateau an empire of rolling land, a great dry, almost burnt-looking desert, with a monotonous sameness of prairies and ever-recurring hills. “To be perfectly happy here the traveller should take a fig-leaf for a daytime costume and a Laplander’s suit of furs for the night. I take off all that the law allows every day, and then gasp in the shade of my tent, but at night I do myself up in a lambs wool wrapper, two ordinary blankets, and a steamer rug, and lie down to listen to the rattle of my teeth until the sun begins to blaze through the canvas at daybreak.” Stationed at De Aar he said they were having what the tradesmen would call a choice line of selected weather. “Every known kind comes up in each 24-hour period, all served in wholesale lots. At times we have blistering sunshine with an Antarctic breeze blowing through it. Then up comes a Sudanese sandstorm to obscure the sun, lifting tent flaps and coating everything with fine sand. White handkerchiefs look as if they had been soaked in beef tea. Just as suddenly a tropical thunder storm blows up, followed by a sunset of such splendour that no painter would dare to put it on canvas.”
NOVEL WAY OF ‘BEATING’ THE DEMON BOOZE
British soldier Jack Smith came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War. But he was not cut out for army life. He found too many pressures among his duties. So unable to face his problems he deserted and headed for Basutoland (as Lesotho was then known). There Jack married a Dutch woman with whom he could barely communicate. Despite their language differences they had seven children. Jack, who was not the most energetic of men, did not easily find work and when he did get a job he did not keep it for long. So, the whole “tribe of Smiths” ended up in an awful one-roomed mud-hovel at the end of Dr Henry Taylor’s garden. The house was quite dilapidated with great big holes in its ancient thatched roof, writes Dr Taylor in his biography Doctor to Basuto, Boer and Briton. “They were a poor bunch. I don’t know how they lived. None of them had shoes nor stockings and each had only one ragged garment. Jack Smith got drunk whenever he had the chance. Each time he came home in an inebriated state Mrs Smith would knock him down with the family broom stick, then sit on his back and howl abuse into his ear. I am greatly indebted to the Smith family for my vocabulary of the choicest Dutch swear words. Mrs Smith never learned to speak English, but she readily acquired some choice English swear words from Jack. One day she scandalised a Salvation Army meeting by leaping to her feet shouting, “I am saved, I am saved, goddammit I’m *#&!?*… saved.”
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”
Said by Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most impressive intellects. His name is synonymous with genius.